Thursday, January 28, 2010

A (Showing and) Telling Example

I got to thinking about yesterday’s post, about stripping a scene down to just those bits of information a movie would convey, and decided to give it a try with Bob. So I hunted down the shortest scene I’ve written (why experiment with ten pages?) and pruned it of every bit of telling I could find. I’m sure I missed some, but if you can ignore that, and remember that this is a rough, ROUGH draft, I’ll let you read it:) Here it is:

Two hours later, they were strolling back across the parking lot. Adair had fallen behind the others, and Seth was matching her pace.

“Your dad seems nice,” he said.

“He is.” She sent him a sidelong look. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Seth looked sideways at her, too. “For a shark, you mean.”

“No,” she replied, looking away. “For a person.”

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry about your…tissue,” she said after a pause.

“Oh, that’s all right,” he replied, giving his blazer pocket a weak pat. “It should come out in the wash. Maybe.”

“I’d buy you another one,” she went on, grinning slyly, “but I don’t think they sell anything like that in the Strip.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he said again, with a small smile of his own. “I’m sure you could try Myron’s or something.”

“Can’t,” she replied, still grinning that sly grin. “No time. I’ll be getting ready for the Last Banquet tonight.”

He relaxed. “Tomorrow, then.”

Her expression slowly drained. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of each other after that.”

His smile faded, too. “Oh. Right.”

They were nearly to the limo now. He grabbed her elbow.

“How about dinner sometime, then?” he asked. “Or a movie? Or, I don’t know, cactus tipping? Or all three?”

Her eyebrows crinkled. “Cactus tipping?”

He shrugged. “My parents sent me to Wyoming for summer camp one year. The counselors up there talked about going cow tipping. But we don’t have any cows.”

“Oh.” She looked down at her elbow, which was still clenched inside his fist. “Right.”

He let it go. “Well?”

She glanced up at his face, then over at the group--or maybe just at her father--then down at the ground, then up at his face again. “Sorry, Clumsy,” she said at last, only able to meet his eyes for a moment. “But I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

His shoulders drooped. “I guess you’re right,” he mumbled. “Cactus tipping could be kind of dangerous.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, but it was gone before it reached her eyes.

“And what about the movie? Dinner?”

She just shook her head.

“Why not?”

She chuckled without much humor. “Because in my neighborhood, sharks are about as common as cows--and Toothpicks aren’t harmless bits of wood.”

Seth swallowed hard.

Adair started to walk away, toward the rest of the group, and he didn’t stop her. As he watched her glide away from him, long red hair swaying gently as she moved, he couldn’t help but call after her, “We could still make it work.”

She stopped, looked over her shoulder, and flashed him a sad smile. “No, Clumsy,” she murmured, just loud enough to reach his ears. “We couldn’t.”

What do you think? No, really, you can say it, because I think it’s missing something, too. For one thing, we hear none of Seth’s thoughts, and since I’m writing from a close third-person point-of-view, that’s a problem. Also, as agent Kristin Nelson mentioned in her post yesterday, there are times when telling is warranted, even required, to communicate vital pieces of information. Plus, all the sparkle’s gone. So here’s the un-pruned original, now with the telling bits in blue:

Two hours later, Mr. Hermes had run out of things to blather about and they were strolling back across the parking lot. Adair had fallen behind the others, and Seth, like an ever-faithful guard dog, was matching her pace--and grasping madly at some topic of conversation.

“Your dad seems nice,” he said at last, since that was the best he could come up with.

“He is.” She sent him a sidelong look. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Seth looked sideways at her, too. “For a shark, you mean.”

“No,” she replied, looking away. “For a person.”

“Oh,” was all he said. It was the best he could do with his insides fluttering the way they were.

“I’m sorry about your…tissue,” she said after a pause. But she sounded like she was trying to hold off a snort.

“Oh, that’s all right,” he replied, giving his blazer pocket a weak pat. “It should come out in the wash. Maybe.”

“I’d buy you another one,” she went on, grinning slyly, “but I don’t think they sell anything like that in the Strip.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he said again, with a small smile of his own. “I’m sure you could try Myron’s or something.”

“Can’t,” she replied, still grinning that sly grin. “No time. I’ll be getting ready for the Last Banquet tonight.”

He actually felt himself starting to relax. “Tomorrow, then.”

Her expression slowly drained, like a smiley face balloon deflating. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of each other after that.”

His smile faded, too. “Oh. Right.”

They were nearly to the limo now, but he didn’t want to be. He wanted to see her smile again and know that he’d been the one to put it there. And he didn’t want tomorrow to be the last time he ever saw her. So he grabbed her elbow.

“How about dinner sometime, then?” he asked, letting the words tumble off his tongue before he had a chance to think better of them. “Or a movie? Or, I don’t know, cactus tipping? Or all three?”

Her eyebrows crinkled. “Cactus tipping?”

He shrugged. “My parents sent me to Wyoming for summer camp one year. The counselors up there talked about going cow tipping. But we don’t have any cows.”

“Oh.” She looked down at her elbow, which was still clenched inside his fist. “Right.”

He let it go. “Well?”

She glanced up at his face, then over at the group--or maybe just at her father--then down at the ground, then up at his face again. “Sorry, Clumsy,” she said at last, only able to meet his eyes for a moment. “But I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

His shoulders drooped. “I guess you’re right,” he mumbled. “Cactus tipping could be kind of dangerous.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, but it was gone before it reached her eyes.

“And what about the movie? Dinner?”

She just shook her head.

He’d already come this far; he might as well go all the way. “Why not?”

She chuckled without much humor. “Because in my neighborhood, sharks are about as common as cows--and Toothpicks aren’t harmless bits of wood.”

Seth swallowed hard, felt his Adam’s apple bob. He’d heard of Toothpicks, of course, dirty weapons used to kill a Toother with the electric pulses from his own Wingtooth, but he’d never seen one. He was pretty sure he didn’t want to.

Adair started to walk away, toward the rest of the group, and he didn’t stop her. He wanted to tell her about his Wingtooth--and the headaches--but he couldn’t, not without going back on his word. Still, as he watched her glide away from him, long red hair swaying gently as she moved, he couldn’t help but call after her, “We could still make it work.”

She stopped, looked over her shoulder, and flashed him the same sad smile his mom had used to tell him there was no Santa Claus. “No, Clumsy,” she murmured, just loud enough to reach his ears. “We couldn’t.”


Still not satisfied? Me, neither. The scene needs trimming, as it could still do without some of this telling, and because there are always words to cut. Like I said, though, this is a very rough draft, so I’ll be coming back to it. The version I end up with will likely be somewhere in between these two, if I don’t scrap or rework it altogether.

My final word, then, is that a scene needs both showing and telling, though much more show than tell. And getting the balance right takes practice--but doesn't everything?

3 comments:

Myrna Foster said...

You need the part where he's thinking about Toothpicks and his Wingtooth. It'll come. You're still on the first draft.

Krista G. said...

Very true, Myrna. Definitely one of those vital pieces of information that can only be told.

Holly said...

Good writing, interesting story.

The unpruned original is much better. We're inside Adair's head and heart. The characters come alive with the extra details.

You could strip some of the dialogue tags in both versions. You don't need to identify the speaker every time they talk. Their mood will still come across.

The crux of the scene is the emotion, the longing inside Adair, not the specifics of what to do in Wyoming, etc.